A good way to start a new season – establishing a 100% win record and keeping a clean sheet! Three tries scored by the wingers on a blustery wet evening in the sunny south-east made the trip worthwhile. It was a pity that the weather was so miserable as when they had played a friendly in Waterford 2 years ago a larger crowd had gathered. The crowd of over 2,300 who came along were glad of the shelter provided by the two stands.
Local hero Jack O’Donoghue got the loudest reception as the players were announced with young Stephen McMahon, another Deise man also being well received. It had been a great week for the county and city of Waterford with Thomas Barr of Ferrybank AC – who like the Munster squad trains in UL – setting a new Irish record and coming an impressive – if agonisingly so close and yet so far from a medal – 4th place in the 400m hurdles final at the Olympics. Last week I wrote about the inspiration from the rowers of Lisheen, and it is great to see the next generation of Irish athletes coming of age on the world stage. This pre-season friendly provided an opportunity for some of the next generation of Munster players to show what they have to offer also and despite the inclement conditions there were plenty of green shoots to give us hope for the coming seasons.
Zebre had the wind advantage in the first half so any penalty conceded saw Munster pushed back deep into their own half. The driving rain lightened at times, or even stopped but it was never far away, making it a difficult night for handling and for kickers. However, it was perfect for kicks and chips to turn the defence and test the handling skills and while it took a while to get the first score it was a beauty.
Darren Sweetnam whose workrate and speed had impressed last season was the man of the match and it was those two attributes which lead to the first score after 27 minutes. Keatley’s kick was gathered by centre Colm O’Shea who broke up field. He made good ground but when he was tackled the ball was recycled quickly for Keatley to put through another kick. That one was chased by Sweetnam and full back Stephen Fitzgerald. When the defender failed to secure the ball Sweetnam was over to score the first try of the new season. The conversion attempt was unsuccessful and it remained 5-0 for the rest of the half.
Zebre had attempted a penalty kick shortly before the Munster score but had not managed to put it between the posts. They seemed to have the advantage in the scrum and forced a couple of penalties during the game but could not finish off their attacking moves thanks to the dogged Munster defence and some handling errors letting Munster off the hook.
In the second half Brian Scott made his debut at tighthead and put in a good shift in the scrum. He also displayed some nice handling skills when he made a break and gave a super offload to the supporting O’Donoghue.
While that attack petered out, another of Keatley’s grubbers after a solid Munster scrum was eagerly chased and secured by Ronan O’Mahony to put Munster 12-0 ahead when Keatley added the conversion after 54 minutes.
The third score was again finished off by Darren Sweetnam after a good break this time by Dan Goggin. Dan was a regular in the Ireland 7s team in their efforts to qualify for Rio and it will be good to see how that experience aids his progression through the ranks at Munster. There was a lot of speculation about the centres with the news of Francis Saili requiring surgery and therefore not being available for the next few months. Cian Bohane who suffered a bad injury at the same ground 2 years ago was in good form as was O’Shea and Goggin. Hopefully the conditions in the coming weeks will give them further opportunities to stake a claim for that position.
Another to put his hand up was Conor Oliver in the #7 shirt who also put in a good shift, running good support lines and making his tackles. That is a position we needed more depth in last season with Jack O’Donoghue being moved across the backrow where needed so it was good to look at the options for depth there.
Twelve players made their debuts including the afore-mentioned Brian Scott and Dan Goggin. Another set of brothers have now appeared for Munster in recent seasons with Conor Fitzgerald making his debut at 10 as he and Stephen join the Scannells, Johnstons and O’Mahonys lining out for Munster.
After the 7 changes above Zebre enjoyed a period of possession deep in the Munster half where they laid seige to the line. It looked like it would be just a matter of time before they breached the line, especially when they won a penalty and opted for a scrum but fair dues to the youngsters they dug deep and kept their shape, eventually winning the turnover to relieve the pressure. Then they went on the attack themselves, often the best form of defense! Unfortunately they could not find the elusive score but they can take a lot of credit from their time on the pitch. Maybe that was what Erasmus was referring to when he is quoted in the Examiner saying: Overall, I was happy, particularly (happy) with the defence when called upon”
MUNSTER: Stephen Fitzgerald (Calvin Nash ’72); Darren Sweetnam (Steven McMahon ’72, Cian Bohane (Shane Daly ’72), Colm O’Shea (Dan Goggin ’51), Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Keatley (Conor Fitzgerald ’72), Duncan Williams (John Poland ’72); John Ryan (Peter McCabe ’65), Niall Scannell (Kevin O’Byrne ’65), Stephen Archer (Brian Scott ‘HT (John Andress ’65 (Brian Scott ’80))); John Madigan (Dave Foley ‘HT (Dave O’Callaghan ’76)), Billy Holland (captain); Dave O’Callaghan (Darren O’Shea ’51), Conor Oliver (Ollie Lyons ’72), Jack O’Donoghue (Gavin Coombes ’72).
ZEBRE: Carlo Canna (Carlo Engelbrecht ’53); Giovanbattista Venditti (Tommasso Boni ’68), Tommasso Boni (Giulio Bisegni ’53), Tommasso Castello, Gabriele di Giulio; Edoardo Padovani, Gugliemo Palazzani; Andrea Lovotti (Andrea de Marchi ’65), Oliviero Fabiani (Tommaso D’Apice ’57), Pietro Ceccarelli (Dario Chistolini, ’53); Gideon Koegelenberg, Federico Ruzza (Quintin Geldenhuys HIA ’43 to ’50 (Guillermo Roan ’63)); Jacopo Sarto (captain) (Giovanni Pettinelli ’57), Maxime Mbanda, Derick Minnie.
There was no big screen at the game to help see what was happening so I have included link to match report from The42.ie (plus the Examiner link above) and the highlights video shared by Munster rugby:
There are some excellent photos from Sportsfile here. Hopefully Dave Foley who had to go off due to a back spasm will be fit for action again soon.
The management were sitting a few rows behind me in the stand along with some of the reserves as there was not enough room for all of them in the shelters by the pitch given the use of the extended squad for the friendly. I wish Felix Jones all the best in his new role, the blog I wrote when he was forced to retire last October was one of my most read and it is great that he is still involved with the team.
After the summer break it was great to see some familiar faces again, I sat beside Paul, also from Tipperary, first met on the trip to Glasgow for the Pro12 semi-final May, 2014, so after congratulating him on becoming a Dad during the summer we had a few words about Tipp’s chances in the football semi-final on Sunday. At the end I enjoyed a few words with the brothers from Waterford, first met traveling home from the Sale game in October 2014. Like myself, they are amongst the regular early arrivals on the west terrace so I am sure they appreciated the shorter commute to this game. I also met Patrick who had travelled from Clare – one of my first twitter supporters (thanks for the countless RTs) – with Jennifer. I expect to see a few more familiar faces in Cork next Friday, not least our own legend, Donncha lining out with his team Worchester! Hopefully we’ll have better weather and a great crowd in the Red Shed to welcome him home!
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